Giants' defense turns back the clock

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Yes, Yelberton Abraham Tittle knew exactly how Jay Cutler felt. You remember the iconic picture, right? The one with Y.A. Tittle quite literally brought to his knees, his eyes vacant, his helmet missing in action while the blood ran a red river down his ghostly white head?

Tittle was in the building Sunday night, there to be honored among 30 Giants inducted into the team's Ring of Honor. He was out on the field at halftime, an 83-year-old man who did not look a day older than he did in Morris Berman's 1964 shot in Pittsburgh, where a hit by the Steelers' John Baker separated the Giants' quarterback from his ball, his helmet and his senses.

"I was not conscious," Tittle said. "When you see that picture, I'm sort of in dreamland."

Dreamland. All these years later, Tittle remains a living monument to the most unforgiving truth about the professional quarterback: He is the most vulnerable victim in the most violent of games.

Cutler was reintroduced to this cold, hard fact. He was sacked nine times -- nine times -- in the first half of the Giants' 17-3 victory over the Bears, and suffered a concussion along the way. His replacement, Todd Collins, was forced to play the second half, and, like most backups fed to an angry defense, he looked eager to return to his clipboard and baseball cap -- until he, too, was driven from the game by a vicious hit.

So the Giants won a game they positively had to win by beating up the other guy's quarterbacks. Even when QB Eli Manning's offense looked hopelessly lost for much of the night, the home team rediscovered the surest formula to surviving and thriving in the NFL.

Remember, the Giants won their last Super Bowl by spending that forever night in Tom Brady's face, rearranging his dimpled chin. People prefer to recall the wild Eli escape and the crazy David Tyree catch, but it was the relentless pressure applied to Brady that crushed the Patriots' 19-0 dream.

Asked Sunday night if he could remember another time when the Giants' defense was as dominant as it was against Chicago, Osi Umenyiora said, "Yeah. The Super Bowl."

This is the franchise's identity. Harassing the quarterback is in the Giants' DNA.

They finished with 10 sacks, three for Umenyiora, three for Justin Tuck. In the end, the defensive front exposed the Bears as a fraudulent 3-0 team. "For us, it came kind of easy," Tuck said. "It really did."

After a while, Cutler was peeking over his shoulder pads, looking for the bogeyman known as LT. Lawrence Taylor was a no-show for the Ring of Honor ceremony, sacked again by his own personal demons. The Giants' pass-rushers summoned his spirit, anyway.

"It was perfect," said Giants owner John Mara.

Perfect because his father, Wellington Mara, always loved to go old-school with the defense. Perfect because the Bears of Butkus and the Giants of Huff should always settle their differences with a fistfight disguised as a football game.

Perfect because it rained. Perfect because the Giants were honoring their greatest players and leaders, including Harry Carson, last heard ripping last year's team for defacing the old building upon exit.

Perfect because Tom Coughlin proved he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. "If we lose next week," Mara told a small circle of reporters, "you'll start writing those Bill Cowher stories again."

To the Coughlin critics, Mara said, "Keep going after him. Keep it coming." For some odd reason, the Giants' coach and his players are in the habit of saving their best games for their darkest hours.

Tiki Barber hit Coughlin from the blind side again last week, and the New Meadowlands Stadium crowd hit him back during the halftime ceremony. The fans booed Barber, and offered unmitigated love and affection to some Giants who weren't even in Tiki's league.

"We got 29 cheers," Mara said. "But [Barber] deserved to be up there."

Whatever. The Giants had too many problems in the present to spend too much time and energy on an issue out of their recent (and complicated) past.

Alumni Michael Strahan and Jessie Armstead did their Knute Rockne best during the week, trying to stir a team allegedly lacking leadership. Maybe their words made a dent, or maybe they meant nothing at all.

Only this much is certain: With Mathias Kiwanuka out, the defense dropped its fan base inside a time machine. The unit and the crowd went back to 2007, back to a place where the Giants embraced one simple term of engagement.

Kill the other guy's quarterback.

Under the Sunday night lights, the Giants sure didn't play like the gutless wonders they were in 2009. They didn't remind anyone of the lifeless contenders shot down by Plaxico Burress' gun in 2008, either.

They made like a 2-2 team with designs on building a season that will make their honored VIPs proud.

"It was a defensive struggle," Coughlin said, "and that's probably the best way that we could acknowledge them."

The Giants knocked out two quarterbacks. Even if they didn't draw any blood, Y.A. Tittle surely appreciated the show.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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